The ARES Team
A series of images and a later video shared on a popular VKontake page in April and June 2016 depict a number of Russian armed forces personnel in Syria. These troops are pictured with a range of weapons, including a number of dedicated sniper rifles and anti-materiel rifles.
The earlier images show Russian special operations forces (SOF) servicemen armed with Steyr SSG 08 bolt-action sniper rifles equipped with suppressors. Given the length of the barrels and suppressors, the SSG 08 rifles in these images are likely to be chambered for the .338 Lapua Magnum calibre. SSG 08 rifles chambered for .300 Winchester Magnum have reportedly been in service with the Senezh (Сенеж ) Russian SOF unit since at least 2012. As with other western sniper rifles, such as the Accuracy International AW sniper rifle observed by ARES in September 2015, only certain select Russian SOF units are using Western armament systems instead of Russian equivalents.
The later video shows Russian Army personnel in a staging area near Palmyra. Among the various weapons in the video, there are two servicemen carrying 6S8 ASVK (АСВК) anti-materiel rifles, chambered for the 12.7 x 108 mm cartridge. The ASVK is able to accurately hit targets up to 1,500 meters, according to Russian sources. With a bullpup configuration and the ability to penetrate lightly armoured vehicles, one common use in Syria is as a weapon to defend against the armoured (suicide) vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, known as (S)VBIEDs, widely employed by the Islamic State and other actors. Also effective against light structures and fortified fighting positions, such anti-materiel rifles are also used in a counter-sniper role. The Syrian Arab Army is also believed to have been using the ASVK since late 2014, which facilitates the operation of mixed Syrian-Russian sniper teams, as have been documented.
One of the soldiers is also carrying what appears to be a Second World War-era Degtyarov PTRD (ПТРД) anti-materiel rifle, recognizable by the stock arrangement and narrow barrel profile. The rifle appears to be equipped with a scope and extra padding in the stock. The Degtyarov PTRD is a single-shot bolt-action rifle that first saw service in 1941 as an anti-tank rifle. The PTRD-41 has been widely employed in Ukraine in multiple roles by both sides to the conflict, including counter-sniper operations and in the destruction of suspected UXOs. In particular, the use of BZT armour-piercing incendiary (API) and MDZ high explosive incendiary (HEI) ammunition has proven popular. Nonetheless, its use in Syria remains minimal.
Other sniper rifles and designated marksman rifles that have been documented in service with Russian forces in Syria include the 9 x 39 mm VSS integrally-suppressed self-loading rifle and the well-known SVD self-loading rifle, as well as the SVDS, a version of the SVD with a side-folding stock.
Steyr SSG 08
Action Manually-operated (bolt-action)
Calibre: .308 WIN / .300 WM / .338 LM
Overall length: 1102 mm to 1280 mm
Barrel length: 508 mm to 690 mm
Weight (unloaded): 5.46 kg to 6.12 kg
Magazine capacity: 10 rounds / 8 rounds / 6 rounds
Action: Manually-operated (bolt-action)
Length: 2000 mm
Barrel length: 1350 mm
Weight (unloaded): 17.3 kg
Magazine capacity: N/A (single-shot)
Two images have been edited to obscure politicised content. H/t Ilya A.